Senator calls for White House confidentiality waivers in leak probe
Schumer: Waivers could free journalist to divulge sources
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Democratic senator called on the White House Tuesday to require all its employees to sign waivers of confidentiality as part of the investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative to a journalist last summer.
In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, argued the waivers could free the journalist who published the CIA agent's name to divulge his sources. Without requiring all staffers to sign such waivers, Schumer said, the White House cannot say it is providing "full cooperation" with the criminal investigation.
The Justice Department has been conducting a criminal investigation into who disclosed the identity of a CIA officer whose husband had challenged President Bush's claims about Iraq's weapons threat.
Government sources told CNN Friday that FBI agents investigating the leak asked senior Bush administration officials to sign confidentiality waivers.
Schumer, the ranking Democrat on the Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee, wrote, "The White House has claimed that it is 'fully cooperating' with the criminal investigation into this leak.
"The White House staff has partially cooperated by turning over phone and e-mail records, but the professional prosecutors handling the investigation into this national security breach have determined that they would be aided by these waivers of confidentiality.
"Full cooperation requires that these staffers comply with this reasonable request from law enforcement."
He added, "because some journalists might consider the confidentiality agreement to attach to the person and not the White House itself, signed waivers from each individual -- as prosecutors have requested -- would be the best step that could be taken. The only way that will happen is if you order it of your employees. I encourage you to do so in the strongest possible way."
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan responded, "It would be unfortunate if people are seeking to politicize this serious matter for partisan gain."
He would not say whether the White House will require employees to sign waivers.
"This is an investigation being conducted by career officials at the Department of Justice," he told reporters at a daily briefing.
"The White House has done everything it has been asked to do. The president made it very clear he wants everyone to cooperate fully in the investigation... No one wants to know the truth more than the President of the United States," McClellan said.
Journalist Robert Novak, a newspaper columnist and CNN contributor, published the name of the covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, last July. He said he learned of her CIA connection from "two senior administration officials."
It is a felony offense to reveal the name of a CIA operative, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Novak is not commenting on the matter, and has not said whether he would divulge his sources even if they signed confidentiality agreements. Many reporters would not.
The investigation is being headed by a special counsel, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself last week.
Investigators are looking into whether the release of Plame's name was political payback against her husband, Joseph Wilson, former U.S. envoy in Iraq and Gabon.
An outspoken critic of the Bush administration policy in Iraq, he discredited intelligence allegations involving the supposed movement of uranium into Iraq. Wilson also accused the White House of exaggerating the weapons threat from Iraq, Washington's main justification for going to war in March 2003.
Schumer, in his letter to Card, said, "I know you and the president care passionately about the men and women who serve America and protect us from those who would do us harm.
"In a post-9/11 world, we have no more valuable soldiers in the war on terrorism than our intelligence operatives. The leaking of this woman's name was not only a despicable thing to do to her, it threatens our network of operatives and informants, harms our efforts to recruit new informants, and drastically undermines national security. It simply cannot be tolerated."